How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies School Near Andalusia Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Andalusia AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Andalusia homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration too. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Andalusia AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Andalusia AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies in the profession are:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Association for Legal Professionals
By graduating with a paralegal degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Andalusia AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Andalusia AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant factors to consider as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Andalusia AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Andalusia AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Andalusia AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it might be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially consider those schools that are within the Andalusia AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help reduce some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Andalusia AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Andalusia AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose provides that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Andalusia Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best legal assistant training school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Andalusia home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Andalusia Alabama.